Recently a friend shared with me an experience she had at a publicly open pitch session in Nashville. After playing her song for an industry professional, the response was “it’s a nice song, but I couldn’t pitch it. Try listening to songs from ‘X’ (writer) in Nashville and write something just like that but a little different.”
Needless to say, she walked away feeling angry, disillusion, and confused.
So what do we do when the feedback we get on our songs tells us to copy what is already out there?
We began making music because we felt we had something original to say, or at least something personal to say. To take that personal quality out, would mean a total change in job description. We would be replicators, mere entertainers, not artists.
This kind of feedback is why many musicians in the industry give up. It is natural to become jaded in an environment where everyone has an opinion but few are interested or even many times capable of offering insight for real tools and change. Writing and producing effective songs takes time and experience. Doing our craft a lot means we are writing at least a few times a week, working with other musicians by playing, practicing, writing or performing. It also means that we are recording regularly, and experimenting with the different roles of writer, instrumentalist, music director, producer, mix engineer, and vocalist. Though we will excel at only one or two of those rolls, we will begin to understand what excelling in all these roles really requires.
It may be true that for several years, our music does not have mass appeal. If we are getting consistent feedback that our songs are not pitchable within the market we are pitching them, we need to investigate why. Involving other musicians in that quest is absolutely necessary. We might choose to form a band and perform with them, or get into the studio and record with them. We might choose two of our songs and hire a producer who has experience within the genre. This experience is what we are paying for along the road if we are searching for a broader appeal.
What I’ve learned from critiques over the years, is that publishers, labels and artists alike will desire a certain sound or a certain message in the songs they’re looking for. But from the time they start looking for songs to the time they actually get into the studio to record, those desires can change drastically. When we try to follow the trend, or hit a target as described by a publisher looking for songs, we often miss the mark. Success occurs when we are able to connect what we do naturally to what listeners find appealing and accessible. And that journey is one that can’t be taken alone. I am absolutely convinced that the courses at Berklee Online are a substantial and financially prudent way to build a network of musicians who can provide solid feedback and guidance. The time we spend learning tools of the trade and applying them to our own songwriting can be the most important 12 weeks of our growth as writers. Planning to take a few courses over several months or enrolling in a certificate program also provides a foundation for real insight into your process. You’ll come out knowing more clearly where the connect is between the raw material you write and produce, and what the industry feedback you’ve been getting really means.
The next time you receive feedback, see if you can notice any trends or patterns in what is being said and what has been said in the past about your songs. Then, begin looking for other musicians who can address the issues that feedback presents. You may find that you have been trying to appeal to a more narrow market and your music would be better received in another context. And keep in mind all writers and musicians are growing all the time. When we stick together, we benefit from the skills knowledge and experiences of each other.